Through good times and bad, we’ve learned a few things about traveling on the cheap in India and would hate to withhold the juice.
1. Thou shalt not lose thy patience. India has required more patience than any other country. From pushy salespeople to conniving rickshaw drivers to complete lacks of efficiency and organization in some respects, we were constantly tested. Fortunately, India has also turned out to be one of the more rewarding journeys for this very reason.
2. Though shalt bargain for everything. It’s not just about bazaars and taxi rides, we bargained especially hard for hotels, which wasn’t as common of a practice in SE Asia.
3. Thou shalt get a mobile. My uncle hooked us up with an Indian phone in Bangalore and at first, I hesitated adding another item to my backpack, but this phone has been a lifesaver — whether it’s to call taxi drivers we’ve hired or to book hotels, who generally didn’t respond to emails.
3. Thou shalt wear closed-toe shoes. India can be dirty. Protect yourself.
4. Thou shalt travel by train at least once. We didn’t mind the buses, but trains are much more comfortable. We booked all of our tickets through the very easy-to-use site Cleartrip.com for a small 20-rupee service charge. Keep in mind that trains do sell out ridiculously quickly, but we heard if you’re the first 10 or so people on the waitlist, you’ll get a ticket. To be safe, we bought available tickets only. And regarding train classes, people scared us into wanting only AC first or second class. For long journeys this is probably a good idea. But for short trips, we preferred the cheaper AC chair car. On two of our three rides, chair car was the only option and it was more than comfortable. We had AC second class seats for the quick three-hour trip from Agra to Delhi but would’ve much preferred chair car. Something about being in sleeping compartments — even if they fold into chairs — felt claustrophobic. (Lonely Planet has a very good breakdown of the differences between train classes.)
5. Thou shalt hire a driver. We hired a rickshaw driver in Jaipur and had a driver on call in Agra, and it was amazing to know we had someone waiting for us. It’s cheap and saves a lot of headache.
6. Thou shalt visit Bangalore. Even if I wasn’t from Bangalore, this would be my favorite place of everywhere we visited. I detailed my love for it already, but I’ll reiterate: People are friendly, there’s a nice balance of East meets West, the food is delicious, there are virutally no tourists, and there’s tons of greenery. We’d love to go back, rent a serviced apartment for a couple weeks and just hang out.
8. Thou shalt see at least one Bollywood movie in a theater. It’s fun, silly, colorful entertainment. And you can leave after intermission if you can’t handle the full three hours.
9. Thou shalt not eat street food. I know some people do it, but even my relatives in India don’t eat much street food. That said, you can always trust a deep-fried snack.
10. Thou shalt drink the coffee. It’s the best, especially in South India. Seriously.